I regularly think to myself how lucky I am to work downtown just a block away from our fabulous local bookstore, Bookshop Santa Cruz. I am a weekly visitor (at least), and they are dog friendly so I like to take a quick break from work, take Rudy for a walk, and peruse the new release and sale sections. They also put on regular local events for the community, of which I fairly regularly attend. I especially geek out when they do their Winter Reading Program, which rewards you with little treats after reading three of the list of books they suggest. I get so giddy to return my little bookmark with the three books I read checked off to collect my coupons for a free cupcake and free wine tasting. This place is seriously made for me.
Last month when I was wandering through the store I noticed they were putting on a Books and Brews event series at local breweries and beer pour shops around Santa Cruz. I of course had to attend the book discussion at Beer Thirty. I would have read just about any book they put in front of me for this event, but I was really pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed their suggestion, The Bees by Laline Paull.
I can safely say this is the most imaginative book I have ever read. The story is told from an anthropomorphic perspective of a worker bee inside of a hive, and it is obvious the author did a lot of research about the behaviors of bees. The level of detail the author weaves into this story is absolutely insane, which sucked me right in to the world inside of this hive. At some points the story rather abruptly skips around and felt a bit fragmented, but once I got used to it I realized the scattered style of story telling ended up adding an authentic "bee-minded" touch to the voice of the protagonist, Flora 717.
The book starts with Flora 717 essentially being "born", emerging from her cell in the hive. The plot immediately kicks into high-gear with a pretty graphically violent scene and never really rests after that. Flora is described as being ugly, large, and deformed and would normally be killed immediately after emerging, but she is quickly whisked away by another, higher-up "Sage" bee that sees Flora has special gifts. As such, Flora moves around to the different areas of the hive quickly and the reader gets to tour the hive in its entirety, and learn about some very interesting interactions bees have with the world outside of their hive as well. The book is described as a dystopian novel, and although I agree with that by definition, I think the book has so many more layers than just that. It has a rather feminist tone, and is filled with allegory of social systems and religion. Overall the story is quickly paced, vividly descriptive, and tense in its high-stakes (and violent) scenes, all of which are pretty easy to digest because they happen in such a small scale, all within a beehive.
More than anything else, this book made me very curious to learn more about bees in general. Their behavior, or culture, if you will, is so fascinating! Thankfully the Bookshop brought in a beekeeper to attend the discussion and answer any questions we had about the bees' behaviors. The beekeeper said although the author took some literary liberties, for the most part much of the book is correct, biologically speaking.
I would highly recommend this novel if you are looking for something different. Just be prepared for the intensity of the first few scenes, and don't get too weirded-out by the fact that you are reading from a bee's perspective. It's really worth it if you just let go and let the story unfold!